Friday, December 29, 2006

Christmas in Seattle

Although I figured out how to have a almost-like-home Christmas while staying in a hotel room the first time seven years ago, each time it's a bit different.

This year our daughter K is living in Seattle in a tiny but beautiful studio condo. We stayed in a hotel with a suite that was as large as a one bedroom apartment, including a small kitchen and good sized living room. Since we had more room, lots of family time was spent in our suite.

The kitchen had a microwave and a stove, but didn't have an oven, so we ordered our favorite Christmas morning breakfast of sweet roll, muffins and scones from the Macrina Bakery in Belltown. As you can see above, it was seriously yummy. Lots and lots of coffee, a bowl of fruit salad, and smoked salmon omlettes rounded out a breakfast that took us into the afternoon as we opened gifts and watched old movies.

The same bakery was the source of our post-stroll late afternoon snack of baked brie in pastry, accented with herbs and dried fruits. Serious comfort food which I served with apple slices and stoned wheat crackers. Sorry no photo but you can imagine golden pastry, warm (from the microwave) brie and the juicy snap of crisp apples.

Dinner was a Northwest affair with fresh coho salmon from the new Whole Foods market, cooked in the microwave, then finished in a frying pan, plus blackened fresh tuna, expertly cooked by Sweetie. I had brought along herbs and garlic salt in the suitcase. Trader Joe's was the source for the rest of the meal of mashed potatoes and peas. Both were easily cooked in a tiny kitchen that didn't have very many cooking tools. Finishing it off was tea and Grandma's crescent cookies. You don't have to be home to have a Christmas almost as good as at home, but it's a little more challenging. The most difficult part was cleaning up. There was no dish soap, so I improvised with the small bottle of shampoo from the bathroom.

Hope that your Christmas was fun and that you had your fill of good food and good times with family and friends.

Cloudy Space Needle skies in Seattle on Christmas Day

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blogging by Mail - Package from Japan

Returning home yesterday from a week in Seattle, I discovered that a package from Amy Piesse of Impossible Juxtapositions had arrived while I was gone.

Amy is a teacher in Japan but originally hails from Perth in Australia. My Sweetie's college room mate Jon and his family lived in Perth until recently and we visited them a few years ago. Perth is in Western Australia and has fewer tourists than Sydney, Melbourne and the Barrier Reef on the east coast, but it is a lovely city. Amy went home for the holidays (for turkey and pudding according to her card), but before she left she sent the wonderful collection of things shown in the photo.

Some things, like the Kit Kat bars and Hello Kitty toy were familiar, but others, like the packets of amezake are a new treat. Amy writes that amezake is a by-product of sake, non-alcoholic, and good with some freshly grated ginger for kick. I'm looking forward to trying it. The package also contained some yummy chocolates and nuts, some pocky sticks, a sweet note pad kit, a lovely felt snowflake trivet, and a pancake ring that I can use to make Christmas tree shaped little pancakes. I've trained as a graphic artist, so part of the fun was seeing the great packaging. The Hello Kitty microwaveable cake package is super bright and all the directions are in Japanese, so it should be interesting to try baking it. A great seasonal collection and a nice connection to both Japan and Australia. Thank you Amy! Loved your letter, too.

And thank you Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness for organizing the Blogging by Mail event!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Great Joy

Of all the things that bring me great joy, giving something I've made is right up there.

The Christmas cookies have been a good example. Time spent baking is almost always fun, but planning the collection for these tins and then making them, storing them, last...packing them up to ship has kept me in the Christmas spirit for weeks.

Never let something relatively simple stay that way, right? So these tins of cookies also included a cardstock insert printed with a photo of the filled interior of one of the tins, with cookie names on top of the appropropriate part of the photo. Mostly I wanted to do it to help distinguish between the persimmon cookies and the applesauce cookies. They sure looked alike to me. Then, to further gild the lilly, I printed out sets of recipe cards for each kind of cookie, punched a hole in the corner of the set and tied it up with ribbon, then placed it into the cookie tin. On top of each set of recipe cards was a blank card on which I wrote the date and a message for each family getting the cookies. It took a little more time, but I'm hoping that some of the cards will be saved and used to bake more cookies later. Maybe the joy will continue that way long past this Christmas.

A frenzy of packing followed and then a trip to the Post Office to mail 'em all off! Thanks to Sweetie (above) we were able to do it in only two trips from the car. It's great to be part of a large family.

A commentary in the paper today also made me grateful for the continuity (so far) of some simple things for the holidays. The person writing the article was complaining that the hand knit sweater from the aunt was now totally replaced by the high tech item for all ages. Just yesterday I saw that handmade is still appreciated. I attended a holiday potluck lunch with a group of fellow watercolorists. A few weeks earlier we all agreed to bring something that we had made, wrapped, to exchange as gifts. The delightful thing is that each of us picked an item that was hand made and beautiful and appreciated. I was particularly pleased with my luck in picking a small handmade box which contained morning glory seeds. Most years I grow morning glories and save the seeds, but this year there wasn't time to garden, so no flowers this year and no seeds for next year. Morning glories are also a flower I've shared with my daughter when she was living near by. Now that she has moved to Seattle, into a tiny urban condo with no balcony, I'll have to grow the morning glory flowers for both of us. Thank you Rhoda! You could not have created a more appreciated gift. Better yet, it doesn't require batteries.

Wishing each of you who read this a very happy holiday season, full of peace and joy, fun with friends and family, and lots of goodies to eat. I'll be away and not able to post for a week or more, but will have lots to blog about then.

(This edit is taking place in 2008 in order to keep track of the beginnings of the group that became the Daring Bakers)

Now the baking group, which still went by various names like 'The Little Baking Group That Could', 'Bakers in Crime' and 'Team Tasty' has increased by three more. For December 2006 they baked Chocolate Biscotti.

Chocolate Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 TBSP instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

White Chocolate for dipping

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Working together with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes; the mixture may be crumbly.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl , add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate, then turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead un any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into a 12 inch long logs.
Flatten both logs with the palm of your hand, so that they are 1/2 to 1 inch high, about 2 inches across and sort of rectangular, then carefully lift the logs onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle each log with a little sugar.

Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are just slightly firm. The logs will spread and crack-and that’s fine. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, put it on a cooling rack and cool the logs for about 20 minutes.(Leave oven on)

Working with one log at a time, using a long serrated knife, cut each log into slices between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick. Stand the slices up on the baking sheet-you’ll have an army of biscotti-and bake the cookies again, this time for just 10 minutes.

Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool.

If you want you can melt some white chocolate in a double boiler. Pour it into a shallow baking dish. Take the biscotti and dip which ever part you would like to be covered in chocolate. Set on a rack to harden.

Source: Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, Houghton Mifflin Company, Nov 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hollywood Diva

Now it was just a matter of waiting for the limo to arrive. She turned from the view of L.A. spread out below and took a moment to admire herself in the mirror over the fireplace. Blond hair piled high to show the elegant curve of long neck graced with borrowed Henry Winston diamonds. Just enough cleavage showing and the white satin column of her gown shouted, “Star”. Barely enough time to enjoy her Bombshell Parisienne in its tall champagne glass and a bite or two of the hors d’oeuvre. There would be more nibbles at the post-Award parties, but mostly she was too nervous to eat. Being nominated, no matter what you said later, was not enough, but it was exciting.
As she waited for her handsome escort Ryron Gracie, who had taught her Women Empowered class at the Gracie Jui-Jitsu Academy, to ring the bell she took another tiny bite of the blini, savoring the smoky salmon and the tang of sour cream. A sip of the champagne and clementine cocktail was divine; similar to a mimosa, but with a twist. Fabulous.
Ah, here’s the limo and Ryron coming up the walk.
Well, just enough time to dab the sour cream smudge from that last bit of Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon and Sour Cream from her lips, repair her lipstick, answer the door and sweep down the stairs on his arm to the waiting limo and glory…

This bit of Hollywood fantasy brought to you as part of The Happy Sorceress's Blog Party#17 at Dispensing Happiness, which this time is a Hollywood party (perhaps one of those our diva is going to after the awards). Get on over there and have some fun.

Bombshell Parisienne
Pour the juice of half a clementine into each champagne glass. Pour a good dry champagne into the glass to almost fill. Add a clementine peel garnish if desired.

Buckwheat Blini with Smoked Salmon and Sour Cream
Inspired by the recipe in Monday Night at Narsai's

1 cup Bisquick
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 egg
smoked salmon
1/2 cup sour cream
parsley or dill to garnish

In a bowl mix together the Bisquick, buckwheat flour, egg and enough buttermilk to make a batter that is a little thicker than regular pancake batter. Pour by tablespoon onto a heated, buttered griddle. Cook on the first side until the edges start to firm up, then turn to other side and cook until browned.
While still warm, layer with shards of good quality smoked salmon, garnishing with a dollop of sour cream and bit of parsley leaf or dill. Serve warm.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Remembering Edith

All of this cookie making reminds me of cookie parties and the best cookie parties around here were hosted by my neighbor, Edith. Every year for more years than I can remember, she sent out cute invitations and invited a group of mothers whose children were usually friends and in the same grade level. Not everyone could come each year, but in later years it was sometimes the only time of year we gathered as a group. Edith organized secret pal exchanges and decorated her house in true holiday style. She made great meatballs and lots of finger food and we added potluck dishes. We brought plates with a half dozen cookies for each guest, usually about five dozen cookies total. We always played a silly game to pass the wrapped gifts around the circle. None of us will forget Mrs. Right.
None of us will forget Edith, either. She died this year in Utah, not having reached the age of 50. She had been ill, but it was still a shock. I'm glad that I can share her recipe for Persimmon Cookies with the blogosphere. I think she would have been pleased to be remembered with a cookie after all those great Christmas cookie parties.

Edith's Persimmon Cookies
1 cup shortening
1 cup persimmon pulp, from ripe persimmons
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup golden raisins

Cream shortening and sugar. Add pulp, egg and molasses and mix well. On a sheet of waxed paper combine dry ingredients and mix. Add to pulp mixture and mix well to combine. Stir in raisins.
Drop a generous teaspoonfull for each cookie on a greased cookie sheet.
Bake in a pre-heated 325 degree F. oven for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Makes about 4 dozen.

It's Amazing How Good My Kitchen Smells

Cookie Madness continues. Sugar and spice and apples and nuts. We move from the difficult to the super easy; drop cookies.
Today I'm making Applesauce Spice Cookies. The kitchen, actually the whole house, smells so good. Apple, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, nuts and raisin fragrances are everywhere as the cookies bake. These are a variation of the Pumpkin Cookie recipe from The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. I made some minor changes, as I usually do.

These are easy drop cookies with a soft, cakelike crumb and the toothsome appeal of chewy raisins and crunchy walnuts. The apple flavor is subtle and the spices are fully present. I use freshly ground nutmeg, so I use a little less than in the recipe. If you can, invest in some fresh baking spices at the beginning of Christmas baking season. It makes such a difference in the taste.

Applesauce Spice Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
Spice and Lemon Glaze (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the applesauce and lemon juice.
On a sheet of waxed paper, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to the mixing bowl and beat until the dough is completely mixed. Stir in the nuts and raisins.
Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls about 1 inch apart onto greased cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Cookies spread a bit.
If desired, brush the cookies with the glaze while they are still hot, then transfer the cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Spice and Lemon Glaze
Combine 1 cup confectioners sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and 2 tablespoons water until well mixed. Brush or spoon over hot cookies. Hardens as cookies cool.

Christmas Cookie Madness

The flour canister, which usually hides behind the cabinet door, has been front and center on the counter for days. The stack of washed zesters, cookie cutters, measuring cups, measuring spoons, spatuala and other baking utensils grows ever larger as each kind of cookie is in the oven and clean up takes place. Cookie madness has taken over and I love it.

So far I've blogged Barbered Santas, Chocolate Shortbread Hearts and, a while back, Saucepan Fruit Bars. The latter are long gone and a new batch will be made soon for the cookie tins. The next cookie is one of my very favorites. I only make it once a year for Christmas because it takes time and patience, two items not always easily found the rest of the year. Actually it's hard to find time at this time of year, too, but I make the effort because these are fantastic.

Viennese Linzer Bar Cookies are another great cookie from cookie maven Maida Heatter. These are found in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies, another cookbook to purchase if you don't own it already. This recipe only makes 24 fairly small bars, but they are rich with raspberry jam and almonds and butter, keep well (so they can be made far ahead of Christmas and still be yummy), and ship well. They are the classic Linzertorte transformed into bar cookies. I've made these with blanched almonds as the book suggests, but found that lightly toasted almonds with the skins on seem even better to me. It is a long recipe, but each step makes sense. Try these soon. They are that good.

Viennese Linzer Bar Cookies
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, chilled
2 1/2 oz. (1/2 cup) almonds, lightly toasted
1 egg
3/4 cup thick red or black raspberry preserves, seedless if possible

1) Adjust oven rack one-third up from the bottom and preheat to 375 degrees F.
2) Sift together 1 1/2 cups of the flour (reserve remaining 2 tablespoons), baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, salt, granulated sugar (minus 1 tablespoon), and lemon rind into a large mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and stir to mix well.
3) Slice the butter into pieces. With a pastry blender, cut it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is fine and crumbly.
4) Grind the almonds and the reserved one tablespoon of sugar to a fine powder in a blender, or a food processor. (If you have a nut grinder, put all of the sugar into the flour spice mixture, not with the nuts.) Watch carefully and pulse so that the nuts stay powdery. Add the ground almonds to the dry ingredients and butter, and stir to mix well.
5) In a small bowl stir the egg lightly with a fork just to mix. Add the egg to the dough and, with a fork, stir well until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. (I wash my hands and finish the mixing with them if needed.)Remove and reserve 3/4 cup of the dough.
6) Place the remaining dough in an unbuttered 9-inch square pan and set aside.
7)Replace the reserved 3/4 cup of dough in the mixing bowl. Add the reserved 2 tablespoons flour. Stir together (or mix with hands) until the flour is all incorporated. Form the dough into a flattened squaare and place between two large pieces of wax paper. With a rolling pin, roll over the wax paper to roll the dough into a 9-inch square, (or as close to a square as you can manage). Slide a cookie sheet under the paper and transfer the dought to the freeezer for a few minutes.

8) Flour your fingertips and press the dough that is in the pan to even it out on the bottom of the pan. In a small bowl, stir the preserves slightly just to soften. Spread them evenly over the layer of dough in the pan, keeping the preserves 1/4 to 1/3 inch away from the edges.
9) Remove the chilled dough from the freezer. Remove and replace one piece of waxed paper just to loosen it. Turn the dough and both pieces of wax paper over. Then remove and do not replace the other piece of paper. With a serrated knife, cut the dough into 1/2 inch wide strips; you will have 18 strips, each 1/2 inch wide and 9 or so inches long. Place half of the strips over the preserves, placing them 1./2 inch apart and parallel. Work carefully as dough strips are delicate. If they break, put the pieces in line and press ends together gently. Turn the pan and place the remaining 9 strips crosswise over the first ones, again placing them 1/2 inch apart. This forms a lattice top. If the strips become too soft to work with, rechill as necessary.
10) Bake for 30 minutes or until the top is a rich golden brown.
11) Cool completely in the pan, then use a small, sharp knife to cut around the pan to release the cake. Cut it into quarters, cut each quarter in half, then cut each strip into thirds. With a metal spatula, transfer the bars to a tray, serving plate, or storage tin, with waxed paper between the layers. You can cut them into smaller bars if you wish. You can also wrap each cookie in plastic wrap or waxed paper if desired.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's Beginning to Feel A Lot Like Cookies

With the return of colder weather, frost in the mornings made the grass crackle underfoot. The persimmons are finally ripening. The birds have found the first soft ones, but I'll get a few for baking, too. I have everything ready to bake, bake, bake. I love baking cookies, with the warmth from the oven and the seasonal smells of cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Now the frost is past for now, winter rains have begun, Christmas is coming, and it's time for me to bake cookies.

Before I get to the persimmon cookies I'm going to make some usual suspects from years past.

Chocolate Shortbread Hearts have been a family favorite for many years. The recipe is very close to the one in Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts, 1980. If you don't have a copy and ever see one, buy it. There are many, many truly delicious chocolate recipes. She also does a superb job of explaining things, so that even recipes with lots of steps are not too challenging. I'm a chocolate addict, so you can imagine my delight in having more recipes than I'll likely ever make, all with chocolate.

These cookies are great for gift giving, which is why I'm making them right now. I'm going to be giving many tins of cookies for Christmas and I like to have a mix of flavors and textures in the selection. These cookies are buttery, very chocolate, crisp and dry. The flavor is so intense that no icing is needed. Use a good quality cocoa because the flavor of the cocoa is paramount. Dutch processed is best. I add some coffee flavor now and then because it really brings out the chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Shortbread Hearts
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup strained unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
A) On a sheet of waxed paper, mix these 3 ingredients together until well mixed.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coffee extract or 1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)

B) Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Adjust two racks to divide oven into thirds.
C) Cream the butter in a large mixer bowl. Add the confectioners sugar, vanilla, and coffee flavor or espresso powder and beat to mix. On low speed add the flour and cocoa mixture, scraping the bowl and beating only until the mixture holds together. If the dough is not smooth, place it on a board or smooth work surface and knead it briefly with the heel of your hand. Form the dough into a ball and flatten it slightly.
D) Flour a pastry cloth or board and rolling pin. Place the dough on the floured surface and turn to flour both sides. Roll the dough until it is 1/4 inch thick, or slightly thicker, with the same thickness all over. Re-flour rolling pin as needed while rolling out dough.
E) Dip a 1 1/2 inch or 2 inch heart shaped cookie cutter in flour, tap off excess. Cut the cookies as close to each other as possible. Place the cookies 1 inch apart on unbuttered cookie sheets. Gather scraps of dough together, knead once or twice, and re-roll, then cut more cookies. With skewer or tines of a fork, pierce cookies in a pattern. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until cookies are firm to the touch. Check often. These burn easily. Transfer to racks to cool. Makes about 3 dozen.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Good Home Cooking

The post lady came by yesterday with a good sized box. It's always fun to get mail and, even though I had requested a copy of The Good Home Cookbook, I had forgotten, so it was a nice, unexpected treat. Thank you Amy!

A browse through the cookbook shows that the recipes really are classics, many something that you would have found on the table in the mid-1950s. There are also casseroles that have graced pot lucks to this day, lots of basic breakfast things, including a number of variations on omlette fillings. Lunch sandwiches include the dependable Tuna Melt and Patty Melt, as well as the Hot Brown so popular for Derby Day weekends. Good directions, pretty standard pots and pans and spices make this a good cook book for novice cooks, too.

Although you don't find as many references to canned creamed soups as I found when I assembled old family favorites a decade ago, you'll still find frozen vegetables, bacon, cheese, butter and cream in use a bit more heavily than I generally do now.

The recipe I tried tonight, Chicken Picatta, was really good. Olive oil was used for sauteing the chicken. In the old days, this would have been butter or margarine. The combination of chicken, lemon, parsley, capers and butter was a hit with my Sweetie. He didn't even add soy sauce, which is a rare thing in our household. I think the capers helped.

Although the previous recipe, Chicken Parmesan suggested pasta and marinara sauce on the side, my recipe and a number of chicken recipes following had no suggestion for side dishes. I decided to go with fusilli pasta to catch the sauce, and steamed zucchini and carrots. I used a little of the chicken broth and lemon juice for steaming them, so their flavors went well with the chicken and pasta. I took the chicken breasts and butterflied them rather than pounding them. It worked fine. Otherwise, I followed the recipe as given, although I used canned broth.

I would recommend this book if you'd like a good compendium of classic recipes. The reason they are classic is they are still popular after many years and most of them are not too complicated to cook. The Chicken Piccata was delightful, the directions were clear and, once the prep work was done of preparing the breasts for sauteing, chopping the parsley and juicing the lemon, it went together fairly quickly. Check out the photo. Don't you want to just sit down and dig in? Thank you Richard J. Perry and The Good Home Cookbook Team.

Chicken Piccata
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup chicken broth 3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon capers, drained
3 tablespoons butter

1. Trim the fat fromt he breasts and remove the white tendons running through the tenderloins. Place each breast between sheets of wax paper and gently pound witha meat mallet until less than 1/4 inch thick. Dust the chicken with the flour until well coated on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Use tongs to add the chicken breasts ina single layer and saute for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until firm. Remove to a serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

3. Add the broth and lemon juice to the pan. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to loosen all of the browned bits stuck to the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture is reduced to about 1/3 cup, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the parsley and capers. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.

4. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately. Serves 4

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Once Upon a Dream Dinner

It's always nice when someone else cooks. It's a treat to sit down at the table and taste something where your hand and your tastebuds weren't involved. This time it was even more interesting because I first heard about this dish first thing the other morning. It turns out that my Sweetie had a dream that he made this exact chicken dish for dinner. Once he described it to me, I knew it would be delicious. And it was.
The main ingredients are boneless, skinless chicken breasts, onions, mushrooms, spinach and teeny tiny pasta. He used chicken broth for the liquid and put some Parmesan cheese on top of the chicken, too. The perfect warm meal for an evening where the temperature is dropping down toward freezing. We've been warned to wrap our pipes and protect tender plants. The same cold front that has been dumping snow on my daughter in Seattle is bringing us Arctic cold.

In the photo below Sweetie pours the tiny pasta stars into the spinach broth mixture.

Once Upon a Dream Chicken
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
3 whole chicken breasts, boneless & skinless, about 1 1/2 lbs.
1/2 lb frozen chopped spinach, thawed (or use a 10 oz. package)
1 can (about 2 cups) chicken broth
2/3 cups pastina (very small pasta)
1-2 oz. Parmesan cheese in thin slices or long shards

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute' until onion is translucent and mushrooms are golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve for later.
In the same pan brown the chicken breasts, adding the rest of the olive oil if needed. Remove from pan and if breast are really thick, slice in half to make thinner or butterfly.
Add spinach to the pan, pour in the broth and bring to a simmer. Add the pastina, stirring to distribute evenly. Add the mushroom-onion mixture and stir. Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and top each with cheese to cover. Cover the pan with a lid or foil. Place in the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Check to make sure the chicken is not pink in the center.
Serve and enjoy.
Serves 4-6.

(For history purposes, this is being edited in 2008. This is about the time that the first challenge took place by the founders of the Daring Bakers. Wouldn't want to forget such a great beginning)

It all started with Lis and Ivonne baking this identical recipe at the same time and posting it on the same day.

Hot Buttered Pretzels
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.

For the dough:
• 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. sugar
• 1 package (2-1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
• 1 cup warm water (you may need a little more)

For the pretzel topping:
• 1/2 cup warm water
• 1 tsp. sugar
• kosher salt
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

1. Combine all the dough ingredients in a large bowl with your hands. Work the ingredients together until you can form a ball. If the dough is very dry, add a bit more warm water until it comes together. The dough will look messy, but don't worry about it.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading by pushing the dough away with the heel of your hand, and then folding it back in onto itself. Push the dough away again and then fold back in. Continue this motion, working the dough until it's smooth. This should take anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. (Alternatively, you can knead the dough in a mixer with your dough hook for 5 to 6 minutes).

3. Once the dough is done, sprinkle some flour on the dough and put it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour. It will rise considerably.

4. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Dissolve the sugar in the warm water and set aside.

6. Divide your dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long rope that's roughly 24 inches in length. (Don't make it too long or your pretzels will be too thin.)

7. Taking hold of the ends of the rope, cross the rope over itself to form a circle with about 4 to 5 inches on each end that are sticking out. Twist the ends over themselves and secure each end on either side of the pretzel.

8. Carefully dip the pretzel in the water and then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the other pieces of dough.

9. Sprinkle the pretzels with the kosher salt and let them rest for about 15 minutes.

10. Put the pretzels in the oven for 6 minutes, then rotate the trays and bake for an additional 6 minutes. Keep an eye on the pretzels so that they don't burn.

11. Remove the pretzels from the oven and immediately brush them with the butter. Keep brushing them with butter until you've used it all.

12. Serve the pretzels warm with plenty of mustard or another condiment of your choice.

13. Enjoy!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Inner Elf 2 - Barbered Santas

Barbered Santa cookies are Santa's Whiskers without the coconut edging. These are buttery, tender and sweet with the taste and color of the cherries and nuts.
As you can see, the dough is really stiff once the cherries and pecans have been mixed in.

The dough is formed into two logs, wrapped in plastic wrap and either refrigerated or frozen before slicing. Look at those Christmas colors.

Now that the big Turkey Day has come and gone, it really is time to get the holiday baking going. My Inner Elf is very, very happy.
My daughter's favorite Christmas cookie is Santas without Whiskers. It also is a great cookie to make ahead because the dough can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for a month after the dough is made and before the cookies are baked. They make a great addition to a cookie tray and are also a hit as part of a gift of cookies to friends and family.

Santas without Whiskers

1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup mixed red and green candied cherries
1/2 cup pecans

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add almond extract and beat until creamy.

Mix in the flour until well blended. Dough will be stiff.

Spread cherries and pecans around top of batter.

Stir in fruit and nuts. Mix well. Form dough into two logs on pieces of plastic wrap.
Wrap well and refrigerate up to one week or freeze up to one month.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove dough logs from fridge or freezer. If frozen let thaw a bit.

With a serrated knife, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick discs.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets about 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on rack.

Makes 4 or 5 dozen. Note: To make as Santa's Whiskers roll logs in coconut before wrapping to refrigerate or freeze. Proceed as written with rest of recipe. Make sure not to burn coconut when baking.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Truffle Me with Cognac

Intense smooth dark chocolate combined with aromatic cognac and chewy bits of prunes.
Time for SHF#25 and the theme is truffles…the chocolate kind. This time it’s being kindly hosted by Johanna at The Passionate Cook. Great theme choice. Wonderful time of year to make candy. And chocolate is wonderful any time of year in my opinion.

Originally I was going to go with Rum Raisin Truffles because it sounded like a wonderful set of flavors to go with chocolate. But I changed my mind. I was inspired by Dorie Greenspan’s tale of her first dessert chef’s job where she grew bored with baking raisin whiskey cake day after day and decided one day to make it prunes with Armagnac instead. It’s a great story in her new book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

So these truffles are a combination of silky chocolate ganache flavored with Cognac and tiny bits of Cognac soaked prunes. They are intense and the little bumps of prune add to the rustic truffle…the mushroom…look of the candies. The Cognac sort of blooms in the warmth of your mouth when you savor each bite. It takes a lot for any food to impress the day after Thanksgiving and all of the feasting that goes with it. These truffles meet the challenge. If they last that long, keep them refrigerated. Don’t worry if you don’t like prunes. Once they have bathed in the Cognac for a while, the prunes take on a whole new sophisticated personality.

Cognac Prune Truffles

2/3 cup finely minced dried prune plums – about 4 or 5 – I used Newman’s Own organic prunes because they have a dried texture which allows the prunes to soak up even more of the Cognac
Cognac to cover the prunes – about ¾ cup
14 oz. best quality semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped – I like Scharfen Berger
¾ cup heavy cream
cocoa – Dutch process is best

Put the finely minced prunes in a custard cup or other small bowl. Add Cognac to cover. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature at least 24 hours and up to 3 days.
Drain prunes, catching the marinade liquid in a bowl and reserving it.
In a microwave safe bowl stir together the chocolate, heavy cream and 2 tablespoons of the marinade liquid. Microwave 1 minute at half power. Remove from microwave and whisk to mix. Return to microwave and heat another minute at half power. Remove from microwave and whisk again. Continue at one half minute intervals until chocolate ganache is smooth. Stir in drained prunes until well mixed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Put cocoa in a shallow bowl. Using a melon ball tool or teaspoon, scoop walnut sized or smaller rounds (about 1”) of the firm truffle mixture and drop into the cocoa. Roll around in the cocoa to coat, remove with a slotted spoon and tap off excess cocoa. Place on cookie sheet that holds a sheet of waxed paper. Chill truffles until you are ready to eat them. Enjoy.

Another option:
Don’t coat truffles with cocoa. Drop uncoated truffle rounds onto the cookie sheet with the waxed paper on it. Place cookie sheet with truffles in freezer and freeze for one hour.
Place a cup of chocolate chips or chopped semi-sweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of butter. Microwave one minute at a time at half power, stirring after each minute, until chocolate is smooth. While chocolate coating is still warm, place one frozen truffle at a time in the chocolate. Remove with a fork, shaking off drops of extra chocolate. Either keep the truffle as chocolate coated as I did, or, while chocolate coating is still warm, drop coated truffle into cocoa and roll as above. Place finished truffle on fresh waxed paper and allow to cool, then chill in refrigerator until you are ready to eat them.

This is a variation of a truffle recipe that I’ve had since 1980.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Soup Shared with Friends

Second Act, First Scene: We return to the celebration of Thanksgiving, but this time it is on the actual Turkey Day.

We are joined by friends from Healdsburg who love a good bowl of soup. Knowing this, I've been looking at soup recipes for weeks, looking on the net, especially on blogs, looking at countless magazines and newspapers for the best recipe for Thanksgiving dinner. I'd actually decided on a Red Pepper Soup from one of my ancient Bon Appetit magazines, but then I spotted a delectable sounding Artichoke Soup by Nic at Bakingsheet.

Everything was fine until I went shopping for the artichokes. I never made it to where they sold artichokes. I passed a sale on winter squash in the bins in front of the store. The cutest butternut squash called my name so now I had to find a good recipe for butternut squash soup. A good soup would please my guests and my Sweetie and also could be part of the Souper Challenge Blog Event which will have lots of soup recipes.

A number of years ago I cooked a winter squash soup and despite liberal additions of hot sauce and herbs, it fell flat in the flavor department. When I found the recipe at
The Domestic Goddess for a butternut squash soup that also included sweet potatoes, ginger, red pepper flakes and apples, I knew that lack of flavor would not be an issue. It's really hard for me to leave a recipe unaltered, even when this is my first go round with it and even if I'm making it for guests. So I made a few changes.

I started by using a Granny Smith apple and a golden one, substituted dried thyme for the cumin, used dried ginger because I didn't have fresh ginger, added some cardamom to balance things and, after the soup was finished and had simmered 15 minutes, I added a dollop of pure maple syrup for depth and to bring out the apple. Chilled overnight and readied for the first course, this soup was full of flavor, smooth but substantial, and a real hit with our friends. In addition to the sour cream garnish suggested, I added red bell pepper in a fine dice. The only downside is that the rest of the meal seemed pedestrian by comparison.

Suave Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium yellow onion
1 average-sized Butternut Squash
1 medium to large sweet potato
1 large Golden Delicious Apple
1 large Granny Smith Apple
2 cloves garlic (crushed/minced)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
½ cup skim milk
½ cup fat-free buttermilk
½ teaspoon dried ginger powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
fresh ground pepper to taste (I used a LOT - gave it a nice kick)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Sour cream and small dice of red bell pepper for garnish

1. Peel onion and cut into ¼" chunks. Set aside. Peel squash, potato and apples and cut into ¼ inch chunks. Re: Squash - I found it easier to first cut it into large pieces and then cut the skin from the pieces, then chop into chunks.

2. Over medium heat in a large saucepan/stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon oil and stir onion and garlic until tender.

3. Add stock, wine, potato, apple, squash and seasoning. Give it a good stir, reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are fork tender. Remove from heat.

4. In a blender (or with an immersion blender), scoop about 1/3 of the mixture into blender. On low speed, blend until nicely pureed. While doing this, add about ¼ cup of milk and ¼ cup of buttermilk until creamy. Transfer this to a bowl or a 2nd pot.

5. Repeat step 4, adding another ¼ cup of milk and ¼ cup buttermilk and transfer to bowl or pot; continue until all soup has been creamed.

6. Put soup back on low heat, stirring to blend, and adding lots of black pepper...yum! Simmer for 15 minutes and taste soup. Adjust seasonings and, if desired, add maple syrup. Simmer another 5 minutes.

7. To serve immediately, heat to serving temp, spoon into bowls and add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if so desired then sprinkle with about a teaspoon of red pepper dice. Otherwise, you can chill it to serve cold or to reheat later. Can also be frozen, probably up to six months. If you have time to cook this ahead, the flavors really combine well when the soup is chilled overnight and reheated just before serving.

recipe origin: A recipe inspired by an original recipe by Andrea and
The Domestic Goddess

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Early Bird

As I mentioned a few days ago, my daughter came home from Seattle for a long weekend. Since she had to go back today, we all agreed to celebrate Thanksgiving a little early.

She was pretty specific about what foods to include. Last year she wasn't home for the holiday, so the longing for mashed potatoes with the skins left on them and pecan pie the way Mom makes it was pretty strong. I was happy to do it her way.

Our party included Grandma L and nephew W, up from the city. The five of us began the feast on our back deck with an assortment of cheeses, crackers, almonds, dried cranberries, and a few prunes, all lovingly arranged by our daughter. Almost too pretty to eat...almost. I made up a veggie tray and blue cheese dip, but the cheese platter was far more popular. Some DeLoach 2001 Zinfandel sparkled in the November sunshine. Down the hill by the walnut tree we watched a flock of eight turkeys eating blackberries. There was spirited discussion about the merits of really fresh turkey versus the prep required, Fortunately for those birds we already had a turkey in the oven. Unfortunately we were enjoying the nice day so much that the poor bird in the oven stayed in a bit too long. Thanks to brown in bag technology the turkey was still moist.

For the Early Bird we had a 20 pound turkey brown and juicy and full of cornbread stuffing. Those requested mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, jellied cranberry sauce (I know, I know. It's the canned stuff. But tradition sometimes wins out), and a simple mixed lettuce salad with the last of my Early Girl tomatoes filled the plates. Grandma L brought her Green Beans with Bacon which is a secret family recipe and very, very good. Lots of savory bacon and fresh green beans. I'm hoping to inherit the recipe one day.

After a decent pause we had strong coffee, and a little later plates of freshly baked pumpkin AND pecan pies with freshly whipped cream which we enjoyed while watching Mission Impossible III. If you need a recipe for anything other than the green bean dish, leave a comment and I'll get it to you.

May your Thanksgiving be full of great food, family, fun and blessings. We're doing mostly the same menu on Thanksgiving with more family, but only four of us this time. Good thing I love turkey!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Barley Casserole for the Cattle?!

My Sweetie brought home a really big bag of barley from the health food store. These cute nubbins were a lovely tan color and promised to be chewy and nutty. He was supposed to bring home rolled quick cooking barley, but this is what he found. What he didn’t realize is that one cup of barley cooks up into a big casserole of barley and the bag must have about 12 cups. We’ll be eating barley all winter and then some. We had ours with some pork chops, but this dish would go well with Thanksgiving turkey or most cold weather meat, game, fish or poultry dishes.

Browsing through some cookbooks turned up a baked barley casserole that sounds good. It’s from The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas from 1991. Its title is ‘Barley Casserole for the Cattle’. He admits that cattle don’t eat cooked barley, but since I don’t digest uncooked barley very well (actually never tried it) I guess that cooking is in order. He also has other dishes for the innkeeper, shepherds, and so on for the Nativity cast of characters. I changed the recipe a bit by adding mushrooms and thyme. That would make it too fancy for cattle, but quite nice for you and me.

Baked Barley Casserole with Mushrooms
inspired by a recipe in The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas, 1991

1 cup barley

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil

6 cups chicken or beef broth
2or 3 medium yellow onions, peeled & chopped

Salt and Pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2) Melt the butter in a sauté pan and brown the barley. Place in a casserole. Sauté’ the yellow onions in butter and the oil for 2 minutes then add the mushrooms and cook until onions are translucent. Add this mixture to the casserole. Sprinkle with thyme. Salt and pepper to taste. (Note: Go easy on the salted unless you are using unsalted broth. The broth concentrates as the barley cooks, including the saltiness.)
3) Add 3 cups of the chicken or beef broth, cover, and place in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour, or until the moisture is almost absorbed. Add another 3 cups of broth, and cook, covered, until absorbed. (Yes, that is right: 1 cup of barley to 6 cups of broth.)

Serve warm.

Friday, November 17, 2006

My Inner Elf

With Thanksgiving less than a week away it’s surely time to connect with my inner elf. I love the holidays and for many years baked dozens and dozens of cookies for gifts and to ear during the Christmas season. This year I plan to give lots of gifts of cookies, so I’ve decided to bake, photograph and blog about each one. But, if I can make it work, I’m also going to provide an index card sized recipe. My plan is to gather the card for each kind of cookie in the gift tin and put them together with a bit of ribbon, then include them with the gift. Feel free to do the same if the cookie seems like one you’d like for yourself or a gift.

I’m starting with a recipe from my mother. A friend says that they are called Dundee Cookies in England, but we grew up knowing them as Saucepan Fruit Bars. My daughter is coming home for her first trip since moving to Seattle and she wants to have tea with her Mom. These cookies are perfect with a cup of tea. They are mixed in a saucepan, so very few things to clean up, plus they are really easy to put together. The currants and raisins and spice are set off by the lemon glaze.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Retro Challenge 4 Pineapple Pinwheels Cake

Almost missed the deadline. Can't believe it. I've been hunting through lots of old cookbooks to find a great fall dish for this challenge for weeks.
RRC4 is a good one. Thanks Laura! I'm totally new to this, so hope this isn't too late and meets what is needed.

This cake from The Settlement Cook Book smelled really wonderful when I unmolded it from the big black iron skillet. Brown sugar and warm pineapple scents mixed with the walnut and cake smell...heavenly. I gave the first piece, still warm, to my Sweetie. He said it tasted like a walnut pound cake we have at a local coffee house, only better. It was even tastier the next day. The pineapple juices kept it nice and moist. Try it.

Without further ado:

Pineapple Wheel Cake
From The Settlement Cook Book, 1944 edition
1 large can sliced pineapple, drained
¼ cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
candied red cherries
walnut meats
1 cup whipping cream

Melt butter in iron skillet; cover with brown sugar, spreading it evenly. Place 1 slice of the cored pineapple in center on top of sugar; cut rest of the slices in half, crosswise; arrange these in a circle around the center slice like the spokes of a wheel, rounded edges facing one way. Fill spaces with walnut meats and candied cherries. Make sponge cake batter, using 4 eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon baking powder, pour over pineapple wheel, place in moderate over and bake until firm. Turn upside down. Serve cold with whipped cream. (Note: original recipe did not have cherries or walnuts in list of ingredients. It also said ‘sponge bake’ and ‘cake until firm’, obviously typos. I used halved cherries and chopped nuts. I found 2 cups of brown sugar to be far too much. I would recommend 1 cup. I looked up the sponge cake directions on p. 434 for how to make a sponge cake:
Sponge Cakes contain no butter and are made rich with eggs. Beat yolks until thick and lemon colored, the whites until stiff enough to hold up in peaks, but still shiny. Use cake flour. Sift once, measure, sift four or more times. Ingredients should be at room temperature.
With Electric Beater: Beat egg whites at high speed until stiff enough to form peaks but are still shiny. Add sugar in small amounts, slowly, at medium speed and when blended remove beater. Fold in flour gently, sifting ¼ cup at a time over top. To make a light, tender cake, avoid over beating.)

Take Out Transformation

Joining the Blog Party # 16 at Dispensing Happiness (thank you Stephanie), the challenge wasn’t really how to turn take out into party food, but how to decide what was take out. We don’t really do take out. We are too far out of town for pizza or Chinese delivery and my Sweetie doesn’t like tepid food, so we usually eat in or eat out. One of the few items I’ve done as takeout is a sandwich from our favorite café’, Redwood Café’ in Cotati. It can be reheated in the microwave without the sandwich becoming too yucky and has really good flavors and colors. It’s called Pesto Chicken Sandwich and we get it served on focaccia bread. These appetizers are a great combination of warm, melty cheese and juicy chicken combined with a jolt of pesto smoothed out with the sweetness of the roasted red pepper. The salty, olive oil infused focaccia ties it all together (and makes it possible to hold in one hand with a beer in the other).

The challenge for making the sandwich into appetizers was to find a good recipe for focaccia bread. The King Arthur Flour website had one for the bread machine that looked promising. I followed it fairly closely, but added a little more salt and did not add the Italian seasoning. I sprinkled garlic salt on the top after drizzling the olive oil. I also used the shorter rising time so that it wouldn’t be too high. That worked really well.

Once the focaccia was baked, it was a simple matter to sauté’ a chicken breast, pull my purchased pesto out of the fridge, along with some jack cheese. A jar of roasted peppers from the pantry added the final ingredient. If you were in a hurry, you could purchase pre-cooked chicken and already baked focaccia and it would be a snap to make these savory bites.

Basic Focaccia
King Arthur Flour website
Large or Small* Machine

1 cup water, warm
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose OR Unbleached Special Bread Flour
2 teaspoons salt
5 teaspoons Italian seasoning, heaping
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
Place all of the ingredients into the pan of your bread machine. Program for Dough or Manual, and press Start.

*If you're using a small (1-pound) bread machine, remove the dough from the machine at the end of the second kneading cycle, and transfer it to a lightly greased bowl to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

At the end of the cycle, remove the dough from the machine and punch it down. Roll it out to form a rectangle, and transfer it to a cookie sheet, 10 x 15-inch to 12 x 18-inch. Pat the dough into the pan. Make indentations in the dough with your fingertips, about an inch apart, and drizzle sparingly with olive oil.A plain focaccia can be topped with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Other toppings may include browned onions, fresh garlic, goat cheese, pesto, fresh sage and bacon, potatoes and rosemary, sun-dried tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, olives, or any combination of those or other ingredients of your choice.
Let the focaccia rise for half an hour to an hour. This will make a lighter bread.
Bake the focaccia in the preheated 450°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and serve. Serves 6 to 10.
Nutrition information per serving (1 plain piece, 1/10 of loaf, 68g): 159 cal, 4g fat, 4g protein, 26g complex carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 427mg sodium, 76mg potassium, 1mg vitamin C, 2mg iron, 79mg calcium, 40mg phosphorus.

Pesto Chicken Savory Triangles

Cut two inch strips of focaccia bread, and then cut those into triangles. If the focaccia is very thick, split in half and use each half for one appetizer.
Place the triangles on a baking sheet and place a thin slice of jack cheese on each one. The piece should be about 1 inch square. Place the baking sheet under the broiler just long enough to melt the cheese.
Pan fry a chicken breast in a little olive oil. When cooked, transfer to a cutting board. Slice pieces of chicken large enough to just fit on the bread triangles. Place on top of the cheese. Add a dab of pesto on top of the warm chicken, then cross two small, thin strips of roasted red pepper over the pesto. Return to the oven if desired to keep them warm. Serve warm.

These appetizers would go well with a cold beer, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fall Apples Appeal

At a local farm stand I pass on the way to work the apples were fresh off the tree and it was self-service, too. These winesaps and some lovely green Granny Smiths were so beautiful.
I've been recovering from a minor surgery and finally felt like I could do some cooking today.

My sweetie decided to broil some pork chops. My contributions were mashed potatoes with the skins still on which were earthy and delicious, plus apple slices cooked with a little brown sugar and cinnamon. These were both easy to prepare, and went really well with the chops.

Having two colors of apples added to the appeal (sorry, but I grew up in a household of punsters) and these particular varieties have a good tartness that was actually highlighted by the small amount of brown sugar. I left on the peel both for the added color and for more fiber. When all you have to do before slicing them is remove the seeds and trim out the stem and blossom end, it goes pretty quickly. Peel them if you prefer.

My method is to slice the apple in half, use a melon ball tool to remove the area with the seeds in each half, then use a small knife to cut out the stem and blossom end in each half. Slice each half, throw them in a pot with about 1/4 cup water (for 3 apples), 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring now and then, until apples are just tender. Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Elixir of the Gods

Sundays are a great day for coffee. For a number of years we have joined some neighbors at our local cafe' on Sunday mornings for breakfast, helped down by numerous cups of coffee. One of our neighbors has already had at least one cup at home as well. Somehow the coffee fix on Sunday is a more mellow experience than on weekdays, helped along by spending relaxed time with our friends. Weekdays the newspaper goes with the coffee. Not mellow.

My favorite brand is Peets. I first became a 'Peetnik' many years ago in Berkeley where I joined the throngs of coffee lovers at Walnut and Vine for fresh brewed strong coffee. This was in the '70's, before Starbucks became ubiquitous, at a time when the coffee available in most of the U.S. was weak, watery and mild flavored. What a treat to have a cup of freshly brewed dark French Roast instead. When I traveled I would bring a half pound of my favorite Peets coffee and a filter cone so that I could brew my addiction no matter where I was. Guess that was the mark of a nascent foodie. And then there was bread, but that'll have to be another post.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting Technical

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Spaghetti and Peppers and Squash - It's Pie

Cleared the old squash plants out of the garden on Tuesday just before the rains came on Tuesday night. Harvested the last of the summer squash, even baby ones. Since it was cold and damp, a savory pie with red pepper and those squash and mushrooms, onion and garlic sounded good. I used up some left over spaghetti, too. The kitchen smelled so good, especially when I added the dried basil and fresh parsley to the hot vegetable mixture. The colors were jewel like, peeking out of the pasta here and there. It looked so tempting right out of the oven that Sweetie served it up before I could get a photo. Have to work on that. So the finished dish was photographed in the pan before it was all consumed.
It may sound like there is a lot of chopping, but it really goes fast.
Chop everything up at the beginning and it all goes together quickly and into the oven.

Elle's Savory Spaghetti Pie with Peppers and Squash

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup diced mushrooms (at this time of year exotic ones are sometimes available)
1 1/2 cups summer squash - I used a combination of yellow crookneck and zucchini
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 tablespoon minced parsley, Italian if you have it
3 cups cooked, drained, cooled spaghetti
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1/4 cup egg substitute (or use another egg)
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (or more) grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

In large cast iron skillet, over medium high heat, heat the olive oil. Saute the onions and garlic until onion is translucent, but don't burn garlic, about 4 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and squash and continue cooking until some of the edges of the squash brown a bit, about 4 minutes. Add the basil and parsley, stir and remove from heat.

Stir the spaghetti into the vegetables in the skillet

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese and egg, and egg substitute. Sir until well blended. Add pepper and salt and stir to blend.

Pour cheese mixture over vegetable mixture and gently stir to blend. Top with grated cheese and place in preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Serve hot in wedges.